Not everyone is fortunate enough to just go and buy their dream guitar. We all know that guitar equipment can be quite expensive, and it’s not something you can easily afford.
It is worth mentioning that when I say “expensive” I refer to equipment that costs at least a thousand dollars. The guitars like this are most likely to be Fender or Gibson, and the amps are Marshall, Fender, and others.
So, the question here is what should you do? What happens if you can buy either an expensive guitar or an expensive amp? If you are forced to make a decision one over that other, what should you pick?
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you had to choose between an expensive guitar and an expensive amp, always go for the amp. A cheap guitar with a high-end amplifier will sound a lot better compared to the other combination.
While the signal is generated in the pickups, the amplifier is in charge of making it usable. Moreover, you can always get a couple of pedals to further shape the sound.
Reasons To Upgrade
Starting from the beginning, I should explain why someone would want a new guitar or an amp. The most common scenario is for a beginner to go for the cheapest possible option. Since electric guitars require an amplifier, the price can significantly increase.
Now, the main problem here is that you never know how much you’ll be invested in playing the guitar. Some people will find the process too difficult, and they will stop practicing. Giving up is always an option (not a good one), but buying an expensive guitar will seem like a huge mistake.
Which leads us to beginner kits. With beginner kits, you will get everything you need to start learning how to play the guitar. They come with an instrument, amplifier, strap, picks, strings, and many other useful trinkets.
All of this leads us to the big problem. The quality of beginner kits and cheap equipment is bad. While it is possible to learn basics, it won’t be long before you realize all the problems and issues the gear has.
Another common problem is our taste. If you start learning the instrument as a kid, your taste will evolve in time, and you might want something different. For example, a guitar with humbuckers.
So, whether you want a different type of instrument/amp, or you just need something better, the only choice is to upgrade it.
What Affects The Sound
One of the things that I need to address here is what affects the sound. You need to understand what are important parts of your equipment, to know whether you should buy a guitar or an amp.
The short answer to this question is everything. But not every part of the guitar or an amp will make an equal contribution to the quality. For example, having good tuners will affect the stability, and frets will improve the sustain. However, neither will change the tone of your guitar, and improve the overall sound.
The most important part of the guitar, at least when it comes to sound, is pickups. They generate a small electrical current in the coils and send it to the amplifier. While other parts of the guitar can also affect the sound, the difference is insignificant.
And the reason for this is simple. Acoustic guitars amplify the sound through the hollow body, and it comes out through the soundhole. The material of the body will play an important role in the tone. When you plug an acoustic guitar in an amp, the sound is still the same one that comes from the soundhole, which is why acoustic guitars use different pickups.
With electric ones, the whole mechanic of the sound is different. The majority of electric guitars have a solid body, and almost all cheap guitars are the same. This means that the vibration of the wood is almost irrelevant, and the same can apply to other parts as well.
Now, all of this applies only to the sound of the guitar, and each part of the guitar is important, but for other reasons. The second important part of the sound is the amplifier since it is the device that will reproduce the signal coming from the pickups.
Why Go For The Expensive Amp (With Cheap Guitar)
It is time to take a look at the first option – getting an expensive amp without buying a new guitar. For this example, I will assume you have a cheap guitar, that doesn’t sound quite good. Something in a price range of $100 or $200.
And for the amplifier, we will go with something really expensive. These might include iconic models like Fender Twin Reverb, Tremolux, Twinolux, Marshall JCM800, Kemper, and others. Naturally, the choice of the amp is solely up to you and your music taste.
So, how will the guitar sound? Pretty good, in fact. Having a high-end amplifier will make almost every guitar sound incredible. Yes, the sound will be even better with an expensive guitar, but you’d still be surprised with the results.
An amp like Fender Twin Reverb will make Squier Strat from the Bullet series sound amazing. Especially if you add a few pedals. There is a reason why so many famous guitar players used cheap guitars. For example, George Harrison played Squier for years, and the same applies to Chris Rea. Needless to say, both ran their guitars through high-end amplifiers.
So, if you can afford to buy an expensive amp, you won’t regret it. Eventually, you can upgrade the guitar as well, if you feel like it. But the sound will be a huge difference compared to the cheap amplifier.
The Difference Between A Cheap And Expensive Amp
Now, what is the difference between a cheap and expensive amplifier? Obviously, the first difference is the price. But there is so much more. Most commonly, the technology behind these two will significantly differ.
For example, the cheapest amplifiers are always solid-state. The amplification of the signal is achieved with transistors, and the quality of materials used (and components) is pretty low. As you increase the price of the amp, the companies making them start using better and better parts.
Eventually, you will reach the price range of a couple of thousands where the majority of amps will have tubes. While vacuum tubes have been replaced in almost every sphere of electronics, they still remain popular in music due to the unique sound they make.
Another important difference is in the speaker. Twelve-inch speakers have become a synonym for quality, and you will find them with expensive amps. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find smaller or bigger speakers with the same quality, but the cheaper amps will never have something as good.
Finally, I should mention the power. Cheap amps and those that come in a beginner kit will usually have up to 15 Watts. The expensive ones will go well over 80 W, and the difference in the sound will be more than obvious.
Why Go For The Expensive Guitar (With Cheap Amplifier)
The second option you might want to consider is going for the expensive, high-end guitar, and using whatever amp you already have. This might be an amplifier you got with your beginner kit or a cheap one you bought somewhere. Let’s say that the amplifier is in the price range of $50 or maybe even $100.
On the other hand, the expensive guitar can be anything from Fender Stratocaster to Gibson Les Paul or Music Man. Needless to say, you will pick the guitar you like, and it should be something you’d enjoy playing that goes with your music taste.
How will this affect the sound? The sound will improve. There’s no doubt about it. You might notice a significant change when you compare it to your old cheap guitar, and the reason for that is obvious. The pickups on the new guitar will be amazing. And you will be able to notice the difference.
However, the main problem here is that the sound won’t be incredible. Yes, it will be better, and it will improve the overall quality. But it won’t be amazing. The reason for this is the cheap amplifier.
It doesn’t use a good speaker (or speakers), the parts are not good, and it won’t be able to make your expensive guitar sound as impressive as it should. This will be especially noticeable if you use humbuckers with gain or overdrive.
As for the clean channel, it might sound decent. But it is highly unlikely that the cheap amp will have reverb, and that it will make it sound breathtaking.
The Difference Between A Cheap And Expensive Guitar
It is rather important to mention the difference between cheap and high-end guitars. One might think that guitar is irrelevant in the process, and wonder why would anyone spend $3,000 on a Custom Fender Stratocaster.
Let’s start from the beginning. The quality of each individual part is significantly better. You will get better tuning stability, perfect neck, incredible finish, and original pickups. If you wanted your guitar to sound like Fender, you will need Fender (Fender, Lace Sensor, Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio) pickups.
But the primary difference will be in the overall feel. Your hands are always in contact with the wood, especially on the neck, and it will make a world of difference compared to your old guitar. The frets are perfectly leveled, there are no sharp edges, and you will notice how easier it is to play expensive guitar.
Cheap models might have problems with action, sound, frets, or anything else. And here, you will avoid all of those issues. Now, the ideal combination is to combine the expensive guitar with an expensive amplifier.
This way, you will feel great while you play the instrument, and the sound coming out of the amp will be even better.
Which One Is Better?
If I had to choose between an expensive guitar and an expensive amp, I would always go for the amplifier. For all of you that started learning on a cheaper guitar, you are probably used to the feeling, the neck, and everything else about it.
There is something special about the first guitar, and how much we love them even though they might not be something special. And if you combine the guitar with an expensive amp, it will sound really good.
Now, it won’t be on par with an expensive guitar, but there will be a significant improvement in the sound. As for the objective feeling, you are already used to playing that model. So, it is always better to buy a new amp, and play it like that.
In a couple of months or years, you can get a new guitar as well. If that’s what you’d like. But choosing between these two, I would always suggest buying the best amp you can afford.
Other Options To Get A Good Sound
I should mention that this isn’t the only option for getting a good sound. You won’t be faced with this problem, and it’s not like anyone will come to your door and ask you to pick either a guitar or an amp.
In reality, there are a couple of ways you can approach the problem and get the best of the situation at hand. Firstly, you can always check for second-hand gear. It is possible to find an amp of your dreams for the fraction of the money.
If this is the case, you can always use the rest of the money to either buy a new guitar or improve the existing one. Furthermore, if you don’t have a specific amp on your mind, you can always go for the alternative, or something slightly cheaper.
Buying a second-hand amp is a great choice, and it will leave you enough space to do some modifications to your instrument if you don’t plan on buying a new one. The most obvious upgrade is to get new pickups. Needless to say, a set of pickups is a lot cheaper than a new guitar, and you can get them for around $200.
If you are interested to know more about buying a used amp, check out my post 17 Steps You Need To Take Before You Buy A Used Guitar Amp
For those with beginner kits, I wouldn’t suggest buying new pickups since they are often more expensive than the entire guitar. It is not always worth investing in an old instrument unless you’re emotionally attached to it.
If this is your first guitar, and you don’t plan on selling it for sentimental reasons, then, by all means, get a set of pickups. It will improve the sound, and it will sound amazing with a new amp.
Guitar equipment is expensive. There is no doubt about it. And this means that not everyone can afford to buy top of the shelf gear. You might find yourself in a situation where you’d be forced to make compromises, and there are a couple of options you can try.
The first one is to go for an expensive amp and keep the guitar you already have. The second one is to go for the guitar and think about the amplifier later in the future.
Of course, you can always check out your local music store or ads and see if someone is selling their gear. Second-hand equipment can be significantly cheaper, and you might find incredible things there if you’re lucky.
All things considered, I would always pick an expensive amp, and combine it with the guitar I already have.
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